Living a Life of Grace

Scripture:  Luke 6:37-42
(Preached at FBC Nitro 1/15/2012)

One of my favorite movies is the 1998 classic “The Mask of Zorro” with Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas.  I’ve watched it several times – to me it is a classic, one that doesn’t get old easily. In the opening of the story the character Alejandro, played by Antonio Banderas, meets the aged Zorro, played by Anthony Hopkins.  Alejandro is drunk over the recent loss of his brother, who was killed at the hands of a mercenary soldier.  An old, bearded, unrecognizable Zorro strikes up a conversation with him.

During the conversation the mercenary appears across the street, and Alejandro tries to leave the tavern to stop him.  Zorro prevents him, and Alejandro pulls a sword to fight the unknown legend.  He is quickly subdued and knocked to the floor, and then informed how his life had just been saved.  Attacking a trained soldier while drunk and undisciplined would have been a quick death for Alejandro.  Zorro then makes an offer to train Alejandro, to teach him how to move, how to think, how to fight, how to live like a true hero.  He then says to him, “There is saying, a very old saying, “When the pupil is ready, the Master will appear.”

Listen to what Jesus says in verse 40 of our passage, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”  When the pupil is ready, the Master will appear.  Jesus in this passage is calling us to follow Him in living a life of grace.  When we do so, others will see Him in us.  There are many spiritual traits we could seek to display to others.  Zeal, Biblical knowledge, holiness, peace, joy, self-control — all of them have their place.  The most powerful one of them all, the most Divine, the one that allows people to see Jesus in us more than any other, is grace.

Grace is defined by Nelson’s Bible Dictionary as “favor or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that person deserves.”  Jesus is calling us not just to demonstrate grace on occasion, but to live a life characterized by grace. When we do so, it means at least three things, according to our passage.

First of all, living a life of grace means to accept others different from you.  Verse 37 says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;” We hear this beginning phrase often nowadays – don’t judge others.  When taken to the extreme, it means do not be discerning, do not seek to distinguish right from wrong.  Nowhere in the Bible does God tells us not to be discerning, to make no distinction between light and darkness.  Instead, we are told to be wise as serpents, that by their fruit, by the evidence of their lives, we will know them.  Discernment and distinction of right and wrong are vital traits in this day and age, perhaps more vital now than at any time in history.  What we are being told here by Jesus is not to reject, not to condemn, not to look down our noses.  If any group of people are to be loving and accepting of others despite their differences, despite their sin, it is to be followers of Jesus Christ.  In first century Judea life was based on the idea that some people were acceptable, and some people were not Jews saw themselves as more acceptable to God than non-Jews.  They even referred to Gentiles as “dogs,” as less than human.  Rich people were seen as more blessed and acceptable to God than poor people.  The physically strong and healthy were seen as righteous, while people with chronic diseases or disabilities were judged to be sinners.  Some people were seen as human beings, some were seen as sub-human.  This kind of judgment is what Jesus condemns here.  When we condemn someone, when we say that a person has no worth, that an individual really doesn’t matter that much to God, we are doing something that grieves the heart of our Lord Jesus.  We may discern that another person or another group is wrong in their thinking or wrong in their actions, but when we begin valuing another person or group less, then we’ve crossed the line from spirituality to sin.  This kind of judgment opens the door for terrible things such as segregation, abuse, and ultimately to killing off individuals and groups because they are deemed sub-human.

In Jesus’ day this kind of thing was common practice, but it also happens today with many of us who call ourselves Christians.  We disagree with others on theology, politics, lifestyle, etc., then we cross the line and devalue them as people because they are different than us.  When we take that step, when we cross that line, we are grieving the heart of God and bringing shame on the cause of Christ.  What may have once been a shining witness for Jesus becomes a reason for others to reject Him.  In a 2008 a book was published called, “UnChristian:  What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity” by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.  It is based on research done among non-Christian twenty-somethings.  One of the main findings is that we as Christians are perceived as being judgmental.  The authors say, “Nearly nine out of ten young outsiders (87 percent) said that the term ‘judgmental’ accurately describes present-day Christianity….Just to put this in practical terms, when you introduce yourself to a twenty-something neighbor, and you mention your faith, chances are he or she will think of you as judgmental.”

Whether or not we feel we are judgmental, the point is that many non-Christians today perceive us as that way.  Pastor Jud Wilhite shares the story of a church member named Cody Huff.  Before Cody became a member at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, he was sleeping in an open field next to the church building.  At one time Cody was making loads of money as a famous bass pro fisherman who had even been featured on ESPN.  He had a problem with drugs however, that he just couldn’t overcome.  He began a crack addiction that led him to smoke up $600,000 worth of savings, his house, his Harley, his new boat.  He smoked away everything to his name and ended up homeless.  A man who had eaten at fine restaurants and interacted with celebrities had bottomed out and was now sleeping in an open field.

Some people from the church’s homeless ministry were handing out sandwiches in the park where Cody slept, and they told him he could get a shower at Central Christian Church.  The last place Cody wanted to go was a church, but he hadn’t bathed in so long that even other homeless men couldn’t stand his smell anymore.  Cody explains what happened next:  “I walked into the church, and this lady named Michelle, who knew me from the homeless ministry, said, ‘Good morning, Cody. How are you?’  Then she looked at me, and she said, ‘Cody, you need a hug.’  And I said, ‘Honey, you don’t want to touch me because I haven’t had a shower in 3 months.’

“If Michelle heard me, she didn’t seem to care.  She walked up, and she looked in my eyes, and she gave me a big hug and told me that Jesus loved me.  In that split second, I was somebody. She even remembered my name. That was the point where I knew that God was alive in this world.”

Over the next several weeks, Cody’s life began to be restored.  He gave his life to Christ. He started leading a Bible study in the park for other homeless people.  “That was over 3 years ago,” Jud says. “Now he’s married, and he and his wife serve faithfully in our homeless ministry every weekend. He has his own business. From ashes, God has raised him up to use him as an instrument.”  His involvement in ministry all started with the warm embrace of a single church member who was living a life of grace, and accepted someone much different than herself.  Living a life of grace means to accept others different from you.

Then, living a life of grace means to give to others less fortunate than you.  Verse 38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”  When we look at this verse in its context, it isn’t promoting any kind of get rich quick scheme.  It is connecting giving with a life of grace.  When we follow Christ, we give.  We become more and more generous, because Jesus is generous.  As we increasing follow Jesus and give away from ourselves, He will take care of our needs abundantly.  The point here is not just to give, but to give to people whom we may feel aren’t worthy of our giving, people who don’t deserve our money or our time or our effort.  The point here is to give with grace.  What is grace?  “favor or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that person deserves.”

While preparing for this message I read about a college student in Minneapolis named April.  She is a Christian actively involved in a ministry group.  There was a mosque in her community that had burned down due to an arson attack.  The leader of the mosque, the imam, appealed to the community for help in cleaning up and rebuilding after the fire.  April answered the call.  When others in her ministry group heard about what she was doing, that she was actually helping Muslims rebuild their mosque, they confronted her about it.  “Why would you help them?  They are the ones we are fighting against.  They are the enemy.”  April responded,  “I disagree with their beliefs, I disagree with their worship.  But they’re my neighbors, and I have to help them.  I have to love them.  That’s what Christ has commanded us to do.”  Sadly, April was expelled from her Christian group.

Living a life of grace means to give to others less fortunate than you, including spiritually less fortunate than you.  Sometimes we may even look down our noses not at mosque in our neighborhood, but at the established church.  We see that things are not as they should be, that beliefs are not as Biblical as they should be and that lifestyles are not as godly as they should be.  We disagree with some of the beliefs in the local church, we disagree with some of the worship in the local church, we really disagree with the politics of the local church.  We then determine that they are not worthy of any money or time or energy.  The thing is, they are our spiritual family, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  More importantly, they are the body of Christ and the bride of Christ.  The body may not be in perfect shape.  The bride may not be drop-dead gorgeous.  Still, this local church is the prize possession of Jesus — He gave His life for her.  Living a life of grace means to give to others less fortunate than you.

Then, living a life of grace means to see others as flawed as you.  Verse 42 of our passage says, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”  When it comes to living a life of grace, we aren’t just called to be tolerant and to give.  We are also called to forgive and to reconcile.  This aspect requires even more grace than the first two mentioned, and can only be done by walking closely with Jesus.  When we find ourselves in a position to judge, when we find ourselves in a position where we feel any gift from us is undeserved, it is then we reconcile.  If we have been judged, if we had others turn away from us when were in need, it is then that we forgive.  When we reconcile and when we forgive, we do so with humility, realizing that they are just as flawed as we are.  We don’t attempt to reconcile or to forgive until we deal with our sin.  That’s living a life of grace.

Many people will not listen to what we have to say until they realize that we are real, that we are vulnerable, that we are very much human.  The world is drawn to believers who are real, not believers who are plastic and perfect.  Admitting our own sins and shortcomings must be done before others can experience God’s grace through us.  The great author C.S. Lewis has said,

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to be sure of keeping your heart intact — you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safely in the casket of your selfishness. And in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will not change, it will not be broken. It will become unbreakable, impenetrable and irredeemable. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from the dangers of love is hell.

 Living a life of grace is a risk – we openly acknowledge our own sins and failures.  The risk is rejection or ridicule.  But without taking that risk, there is no possibility of the greater reward of touching someone’s heart and soul.  Living a life of grace means to see others as flawed as you.

In one of her many books, Beth Moore shares a moment when God spoke to her heart about experiencing His grace.  She writes,

I will never forget watching an evening talk show featuring the story of the parents and killer of a young college student. The killer was his best friend. The weapon was high alcohol content inside a speeding automobile. … What made this particular feature prime-time viewing? The parents had forgiven the young driver… And if that was not enough, they had taken him in as their own.  This young man sat at the table in the chair which was once occupied by their only son.  He slept in the son’s bed. He worked with the victim’s father, teaching seminars on safety. He shared their fortune and supported their causes. He spoke about the one he had slain in ways only someone who knew him intimately could have. …Why did these parents do such a thing?  Because it gave them peace. The interviewer was amazed; I was amazed.  I kept trying to put myself in the parents’ position—but I could not.  Then, as the tears streamed down my cheeks, I heard the Spirit of God whisper to my heart and say:  “No wonder you cannot relate. You have put yourself in the wrong position. You, my child, are the driver.”  God was the parent who not only forgave, but also invited me to sit at His table in the space my Savior left for me. As a result, I have peace.

 Living a life of grace begins with the realization of the grace God has shown to us.  Will you accept that grace this morning?  Will you commit to living a lifestyle that demonstrates it to others?

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